CETL Podcast - Episode 18: Grant Corser

Tony Pellegrini: Good afternoon listeners, good afternoon! Tony Pellegrini here with our teaching and learning podcast at SUU, identifying and encouraging and engaging our great teachers and great learners here at SUU. Today we are pleased to connect with Grant Corser in our psychology department. Grant was our Board of Trustees Award of Excellence winner this last year and does great work with our learners and wanted to take a few minutes with him this afternoon and post some questions about his teaching and also his learning here at SUU. Grant would you take a moment or two tell us a little about yourself and a little about what you do here at SUU

Grant Corser: Sure absolutely first thank you for having me on your program today. I appreciate the good efforts of you and the CETL, and those things which are done to enhance student learning through good faculty programming, so, thank you very much for that.  I'm in my 13th year here at SUU. I'm an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and also the Associate Dean of humanities and Social Sciences. So I have a few hats I'm wearing right now. But I love teaching psychology, I love the idea of working with undergraduate students in multiple ways to help them achieve their educational goals, and I'm happy to spend some time with you today

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you so much Grant. Maybe we could start by by talking to our listeners a little about the courses that you teach. Are there certain courses that you teach here every semester or every year? What are some of the courses you teach?

Grant Corser: There are. I of course on occasion teach introductory psychology or general psychology. But in my area of research I teach a class on Motivation and Emotion and then I also teach a class on what's called Industrial and Organizational Psychology. And right now because of some personnel changes, I'm teaching our Experimental Analysis of Behavior class which was a class that was a long time ago developed and taught by one of our better faculty who have come through the Department of Psychology, that was Les Jones, so I'm trying to at least crawl into his shadow.

Tony Pellegrini: Tough boots to fill, tough boots to fill Grant.

Grant Corser: In the manner that he would but those are the classes I primarily teach.

Tony Pellegrini: Particularly I was Impressed with the Motivation and Emotion. Boy, talk just for a moment about why that's so important.

Grant Corser: It's a great class. I tend to have a full enrollment in that, not so much because of me but because of the title. I tend to get students from all over campus who want to learn more about that and they're particularly interested in the motivational side of it. I'm particularly interested in the emotion side of the class, but they of course go hand in hand and work well. But it's a fairly important class because we all have ideas about, you know, what motivates ourselves, what motivates others, you know, and and we think we know a lot about it but it's fun to go through and, you know, clarify some of the mysteries associated with it and to talk about some of the science associated with those things that do motivate and those things that, you know, do allow us to understand more about our our emotional experiences, particularly right now with, you know, the the increased rates of depression and anxiety. There's so much myth associated with that and so much anecdote. It's really an important class for  students to take, you know, particularly if they're going into an educational field or a psychological field or any really service related field to understand how our emotions work because they're quite complex, but understandable.

Tony Pellegrini: That understandable part I'm right with you I can I could hear a student saying “Oh my goodness, I'm human, I've got emotions, what more can I learn about my emotions?”, but like you said they're very complex and they are very deep, they require some thought.

Grant Corser: I think that's one of the things about psychology and teaching that's been so interesting to me. And in the, you know, the few years I've done it is, you know, we've we've all been human for a long time, you know, I'm 44 this year and I feel like I've lived with myself for a long time, and yet I still do things that surprise me and I still do things that surprise others, and we're in that constant in a battle of understanding who and what we are, and who and what other people are.

Tony Pellegrini: I just am smiling because I can still hear Lex, or Les, asking us, “Grant why are you doing the things you're doing?”, but I have to give a little smile to that. I was really impressed with your comment a moment or two ago about students coming from across campus into your classes. You get a wide variety of students. Talk to me how you address, what teaching style, what methods do you use to touch the minds and touch the hearts of this great diverse student population that you engage with?

Grant Corser: Our students are so well prepared now. Now I don't want to say that they, you know, they're a hundred percent more intelligent than students I taught 10 years ago, but our students are so well prepared now to go out and find information, to seek out information. They're very inquisitive, and I've tried to really allow for seminar style of teaching to take place in most of my classes. If there are periods of what I call necessary lecture time, I try to make those interactive, and I try to, you know, allow students to really use the skills they have in knowing how to discover and how to find information, and then to use the classroom as a place where we can discuss those things and clarify perhaps some of the information or misinformation that they may have found in places. But we have such an incredibly prepared student body right now. Instead of students that know how to get information and we as professors are simply to them one of those conduits by which they can get information. But as an example of this it’s sometimes, sometimes fun, I don't want to say always, but sometimes fun to sit in class and see the laptops out and see them fact-checking some of the things that are being said and talked about right there in the moment. But with those capabilities and those skills, you know, I just believe that the the seminar style, the interactive lecturing allows a good fit between what they bring to the classroom and what we're able to give back.

Tony Pellegrini: We really have a very informed audience don't we? It's, teaching is a lot different today than it was even 15 years ago.

Grant Corser: Sure.

Tony Pellegrini: I was really intrigued with your seminar approach your, interactive lectures. Certainly you've come to that by, I would imagine, facing some personal hurdles, some things that you had to overcome or change in your own instruction. Can you talk to us about maybe some hurdles that you personally faced, or had to overcome to become this great seminar and interactive lecture teacher?

Grant Corser: Well I mean, I mean obviously all the answers are clear in hindsight. I think, I think one of the things though that has become a little bit more clear to me in the few years that I've been in this career is just the need to be dynamic, you know, the need to be able to shift on the fly, or the need to be able to adjust semester to semester depending on the makeup of the audience. Where that is our students and those whom we’re teaching. I've really noticed recently this shift in the difference between those students who are taking classes in the fall and those who are taking them in the spring. I've noticed a lot more urgency and anxiety in those in the springtime, in the spring courses, particularly because most the students I teach now are senior level students, or by the time they get to me they're finally seniors. And I've just noticed a lot of that urgency in that spring semester and so it's been, it's been an interesting challenge to be dynamic and to be able to shift according to what the needs of the students are in any given semester. But certainly there have been the stumbling blocks along the way where I've learned these lessons. You know, to use a little psychological jargon, you know, I often want to be like BF Skinner and have this very strict, you know, academic environment but then I end up being more like Carl Rogers and a little more humanistic, a little more understanding on these things. So there's a little conflict, you know, within me about, you know, which is the best method to use, or the best theoretical approach to have at any given moment.

Tony Pellegrini: With a great diversity of learners that you engage with, that can be, that can be very challenging. Are there other challenging parts of teaching that you found that you could kind of help our listeners through? Some suggestions in meeting or addressing those challenges?

Grant Corser: Yeah you know I'm learning more and more that just the levels of anxiety and stress our students are feeling is higher and higher, and it seems to be higher and higher each year. I hope it's not exponential, and I hope it doesn't continue. I hope it plateaus off or it reduces down. But that's been a challenge for me, you know, and I think it's a challenge for other faculty also, other professors, because we see ourselves as having a very specific, very defined role in terms of, you know, being the educators, we’re the keepers of the keys, and having these sometimes really strict boundaries, but then oftentimes putting ourselves in positions where exceptions are made for different circumstances. I think I can say this without divulging identity, but I'm I had a student, for example, who came in today and I'm working with her a little bit because she has four children under the age of eight.

Tony Pellegrini: Oh my

Grant Corser: She told me today that she was pregnant and so, you know, while I want to say things like well we're gonna hold you to every attendance standard that everyone else is held to, you know, I've learned that there are situations where we say, “Okay, these are exceptional circumstances so exceptions can be made in terms of things like attendance and things like that”.

Tony Pellegrini: That, you know, that treating each learner as an individual, understand, you know, what that demonstrates to me in your actions is that you know your students, you take time to know your students, to know their settings and situations, and to be able to make appropriate accommodations to meet those needs and make them feel successful. And success builds on success.

Grant Corser: Agreed.

Tony Pellegrini: A strange question for you. So you can take a deep breath on this one take a moment think about it if you like. But could you tell me something that's true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Grant Corser: Yes, so one of the things that comes up in our Motivation and Emotion class is we talk a little bit about culture of fear, and we talk about how, you know, we talk about the concept of base rates and probabilities and, for example, what's the the likelihood of your child being abducted if you were to leave that child in a strange city to play in a park by himself, you know, versus what's the likelihood of your child being abducted if you were to, you know, be at a family reunion and, you know, the probability of that happening. And of course we know from base rates and probabilities and from the other things we know about those kind of situations that it's much more likely for a child to be abducted or abused in a very familiar setting like a family reunion, and not so much at a public place like a park, even if it's a strange park in a strange city. And despite talking about that and providing the evidence for it over and over and again, framing it within the theory of culture of fear, you can just see the looks on the faces of the students that say, “Well that that's all well and good, but I would gladly let my child run around in a family reunion on his own but but not so much in a park”.

Tony Pellegrini: So you're not going to be authoring any sessions or sections or TV shows of Criminal Minds with that?

Grant Corser: No, I probably won't be asked to be on a broadcast anytime soon!

Tony Pellegrini: That's great! Grant, I want to tell you thank you. Thank you for taking a few minutes with us today. Listeners, I hope if you have a chance to stop Grant in the hallway or or bump into him that you'd have an opportunity to say, “Hey, I'd love to come see some of those seminars, some of those interactive lectures, if that'd be a possibility”. Grant would you be willing if there were individuals that reached out to you to accept them into your classroom to see some of these?

Grant Corser: Oh, absolutely. I very much believe in not only the concept that we're all on the same team here, but I also believe that, you know, we're very powerful as a community of learners, and I would just put it out there that if people are willing to come and learn with me and you know watch what I do that I would want the same opportunity, the chance to go and see what they're doing to be successful and to to learn from them.

Tony Pellegrini: That's wonderful! I'm grateful that you shared that comment of learn with me. You know, even in our short conversations here, there, wherever we bumped into one another, I've always been able to learn from you or with you even if it's standing in line somewhere. Thank you so much for your teaching and your instruction. Grant, any last minute words of wisdom for our listeners?

Grant Corser: No, not in particular. We have a tremendously talented faculty on this campus who are concerned with the welfare of students both in terms of their well-being, but also in terms of their, first and foremost, education. And when I talk to colleagues at other universities they're often jealous when they hear the stories of what we're able to do and the things that we're able to accomplish. So I'm very grateful to be part of a very strong faculty at Southern Utah University

Tony Pellegrini: It is a wonderful privilege, it certainly is. Grant, thank you so very much. We appreciate you, and are grateful for your service and collegiality, and wish you well. Thank you very much, have a great day, okay?

Grant Corser: Thank you very much Tony, I appreciate the time.


The Center for Teaching Innovation